Athletics Deal Mark Ellis, Commit to Jemile Weeks

Jemile Weeks has been as advertised for Oakland. Through his first 20 games, the younger Weeks has compiled a .303/.346/.461 line to go with six stolen bases in eight attempts, adding up to a .359 wOBA and a 131 wRC+. The second baseman of the future for the Athletics has quickly become the second baseman of the present.

Just as quickly, Mark Ellis became the second baseman of the past for the Athletics. His ineffectiveness had those around the A’s discussing Weeks’s impending arrival; his early-June hamstring injury began the Weeks era. At his return, the A’s had a decision to make. The A’s decided quickly, moving the venerable second baseman to Colorado for pitcher Bruce Billings and a player to be named later. The trade sees the exit of a player who defines the Moneyball Athletics, as Ellis compiled $83.5 million worth of value for only $27.3 million in salary as an Athletic.

The return for Ellis is unsurprisingly slim, as the 34-year-old and his 54 wRC+ didn’t offer much encouragement to teams looking for an offensive boost, even if his defense can still play. Billings, the minor league pitcher involved, is nothing special. For the Rockies minor league teams, he’s posted FIPs in the low-to-mid 3.00s. He throws the standard righty reliever fare: a fastball-slider combo, but the fastball tends to stay in the low-90s. At age 25, his upside appears limited.

For the Athletics, though, this trade was never about the return. It was about the collapse of Ellis, a player who embodied so much of what made Billy Beane‘s Oakland A’s the Oakland A’s for the last decade, and the rise of Jemile Weeks. Ellis was a key part of the A’s division championships in 2002, 2003, and 2006. His current contract, however, was no insignificant part of the Athletics’ recent failures. This year, he has provided nothing in a weak AL West, and although he was productive in 2010, he was also weak in the initial year, 2009. Overall, with the Rockies taking on $1 million of his deal in the trade, the A’s ended up paying Ellis $15.5 million for 4.6 WAR. A respectable $3.4 million per win total for most franchises, but for the A’s, extending Mark Ellis was supposed to be a significant money-saving move, not a marginal victory for the pocketbook.

Now, with the shift to Jemile Weeks at second base, the A’s will have cheap production at second base once again. This time, it’s not coming from an unheralded, defense-first diamond in the rough. This time, it comes from a hot prospect, poised to deliver through speed, contact, and patience. Jemile Weeks only embodies the Moneyball philosophy with his high walk rates, a quality that hardly qualifies as a market inefficiency anymore. Players like Weeks who put the ball in play, run well and play an up-the-middle position are hot commodities everywhere.

That doesn’t mean Weeks can’t be a long-term star for the Athletics. For the A’s to truly succeed, they don’t need to change their philosophy. They simply need to put a product on the field bolstered by successful young players, with efficient veteran signings serving as the mortar. Billy Beane and the Athletics will be counting on Jemile Weeks to be a firm part of their organizational foundation for years to come.

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